The first conspiracy theory I recall in my lifetime was in the early 1950s, during the McCarthy era. McCarthyism spread like wildfire until its perpetrator, Senator Joseph McCarthy was finally shamed into silence.
I was really young then but I can still remember the adults in my life talking about McCarthy’s allegations that hundreds of Communists had infiltrated the State Department and other federal agencies. Sen. McCarthy’s conspiracy campaign damaged the lives of an untold number of innocent people.
It got so bad that Boston Lawyer Joseph Welch, with an amazed television audience looking on, assailed McCarthy with the now-infamous line, “You have done enough. Have you no decency?”
Overnight, McCarthy’s popularity disappeared. He was ostracized by his colleagues, censured by the Senate and ignored by the press. And a sad era in our nation’s history had come to an end.
As I grew up, there were other minor conspiracy theories that sprung up from time to time but one shortly after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination stayed around for a long time. Actually, it was a series of conspiracy theories that ranged from involvement of the CIA in the assassination, to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, to the KGB, Fidel Castro, etc.
Of course, none of the conspiracy theories was ever proven.
Years later there was the conspiracy theory that the Trilateral Commission (or Commission Trilaterale), organized by David Rockefeller in 1973, was a vehicle to create a world government and a companion theory claimed that the commission orchestrated the 9/11 attacks to initiate a new world order.
Fast forward to the present: Conspiracy theories are running rampant across not only the United States but around the world. Because of social media and the Internet, today’s conspiracy theories, no matter how outlandish, are spreading like wildfire. The perpetrators of such theories are drawing huge, gullible audiences, spurred on by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck and many more, including Donald Trump.
[By the way, as most people know, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during the McCarthy hearings was Roy Cohn, who later represented and mentored Donald Trump during his early business career.]
I don’t do Facebook very often but when I do I am occasionally disheartened by otherwise intelligent people sharing — and apparently believing — outrageous conspiracy theories.
Recently at MIT, a controlled study was done to examine people’s social media actions. In short, the study found that if people took the time to evaluate false social media postings, they were less likely to share that information. But, without evaluation, they would share that information no matter how absurd it may be.
If people would only take the time to think, and that’s not a difficult thing to do, they wouldn’t make themselves look so foolish by publicly sharing obvious falsehoods, fabrications and conspiracy theories.
Think. It’s not a difficult thing to do.